The skinny on obesity in fashion

June 12, 2014

The European Court of Justice is due to hear arguments today to allow it to decide whether overweight people are “disabled” for the purposes of discrimination protection.

As Abercrombie & Fitch found to its cost in its dispute with Ms Riam Dean who has a prosthetic arm, discriminating against employees who do not fit the brand image can backfire on the brand’s integrity.

If the Court finds in favour of the Claimant, the decision will mean widespread changes in the way employers deal with staff and what support they are required to provide. Employers who don’t hire or dismiss people because they are “fat”, for example because it does not sit well with brand image, will be found to have discriminated.

What then the position of Tara Jarmon which last year was reported as having a dispute with an employee because of her size.

With rising rates of obesity in the UK (64% of adults in the UK are currently considered to be overweight or obese), the implications of this decision for shopfloor workers in the industry could be substantial.

To date, the UK courts have not accepted that obesity renders a person disabled of itself. However, employers have always needed to consider carefully whether conditions which result from obesity – such as heart conditions – fit within the protection. Now the European Court has the chance to go one step further.

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Stephen Sidkin
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